Hydraulic systems are common in modern aircraft. Most aircraft involve hydraulics at least once in their flight cycle. A single hydraulic system or multiple hydraulic systems may be used depending on the size, weight, and complexity of the vehicle involved. Components that implement hydraulics in their function include thrust reversers, landing gear retraction, spoilers, and nose wheel steering.
What makes a hydraulic system so versatile? The manipulation of aicraft hydraulic fluid allows this system to be practically employed in a range of scenarios within an aircraft. A basic hydraulic system used in aircraft is made up of four main contributing components. Hydraulic fluid relies on a hydraulic pump to generate pressure, the motor then powers the mechanisms involved, and the plumbing configuration channels and circulates the fluid. Hydraulics are often made up of one or more power driven pumps. These pumps may route power from the engine, an electric motor, or an air flow.
Hydraulic fluid is the main resource integral to all hydraulic functioning. It acts as a medium in which a hydraulic system is able to exploit pressurization and create energy. There are a few parameters that fluid used in this capacity must meet, mainly concerning flammability, corrosion, and ease of flow. Viscosity and flammability are two properties that are important when considering which type of hydraulic fluid to use.
Viscosity of the fluid involved is important due to the volatile temperatures it will encounter in aviation use. Hydraulic fluid must remain at a consistent flow despite drastic temperature changes within a fuselage, in order to keep hydraulic systems working. Most hydraulic fluids used in aviation are proprietary composite blends, like phosphate-based ester. Hydraulic fluid needs to be flame resistant in the event of a leak. The fluid used must be designed to withstand temperatures upwards of 450 degrees Celsius.
While dozens of hydraulic configurations are used in aviation, two common hydraulics that are seen incorporated into aircraft mechanics include hydraulic motors and variable displacement piston pumps. Both of these units resort to hydraulics for power.
Hydraulic motors in aviation are predominantly used to power stabilizer trims, landing gears, and power adjustable components attached to the airframe. Hydraulics used in this method are designed to convert pressure into torque.
Variable displacement piston pumps are the most commonly seen hydraulic pump in aviation. “Variable” stands for the components’ ability to adjust outflow of fluid based on system demand. Hydraulic systems have very sensitive pressurization levels that must be maintained for proper functioning. Hydraulic pumps of this orientation are able to secure the required pressure stability.
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